In the Blog

Cissexist Beauty Standards

September 15th, 2015     by Maverick Smith     Comments

Artwork by Erin McPhee

Poets throughout the ages have tried to define beauty. In our contemporary culture, this elusive definition has become simple; beauty is cis. With a few rare exceptions, it is the faces and bodies of cis people that are plastered on billboards, featured in commercials and shown on-screen as the standard of beauty to which all people should adhere. These are cissexiststandards; they divide the world into a false constructed binary of ‘men’ and ‘women,’ were to be considered beautiful people must contort their bodies into the ideal versions of these categories.

Women should be thin, men must be muscular, and both genders must be as pale skinned as possible. These are not realistic standards but these are the ones our colonial cis culture has deemed desirable and beautiful. These are the standards cis and trans people struggle to meet and fail, dying early deaths from diseases and disorders. This includes deaths from anorexia and bulimia in a quest achieve the perfect weight, death caused by infections or complications from cosmetic medical procedures, and deaths by skin cancer obtained in a quest to get the perfect tan for your skin tone. There is also the emotional cost of enduring this repeated failure to meet impossible standards of beauty and desirability

For many trans folks, who are not reflected in these cissexist standards of beauty, the cost of being surrounded by and immersed in cis culture includes an overwhelming drive to ‘pass’ as cis. This obsession with ‘passing’ as cis is understandable in a world where trans folk are too often actively erased through violence. The ability to ‘pass’ either before or after transition could be the thing that saves our lives. But letting cissexist standards of beauty police trans bodies and trans folks it is not a healthy practice. It is not healthy for trans folks to let cis culture judge if we are beautiful based on our ability to meet their binary standards, to ‘pass’ as cis men or cis women.

We should not need to play this cis game of ‘beauty as passing’. I understand gender and how people express it to be constructed by society. And if the broader society, as so many cisnormative publications such as Time magazine have stated, is facing a ‘transgender tipping point’ one would think it is time to acknowledge gender as a construct and break out of the box of gendered clothing and binary-based beauty. However, trans folk who try to do this, who deliberately choose not to take part in a rigged beauty contest based on impossible cissexist standards, are not lauded as heroes or pioneers. Instead, their reward for pointing out the cissexism of cis people judging if trans folks are beautiful or desirable based on their ability to look like cis people has been swift condemnation from the cis and trans communities.

This is intolerable. It reeks of cissexist behaviour, internalized cissexism and malicious microaggressions. (To paraphrase from Dr.Derald Wing Sue, microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, that communicate hostile, derogatory slights or insults to the target person or group). What is needed is a paradigm shift. What is need is an honouring of the alternative beauty found in trans communities, beauty that does not conform to cissexist standards. Only then can trans communities heal the wounds inflicted by a cissexist culture, cease concerning ourselves with the notion of meeting cis beauty standards and work towards equity for all trans people of any gender identity or gender expression.

Here are some resources and related links if you want to read more!

Maverick Smith is a deaf*, queer, trans*,dis/abled person, who uses ‘they/them’ pronouns Maverick Smith, has always been passionate about social justice and equity. A published writer, poet and an editor, Maverick currently resides on the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the New Credit where they are engaged in community work related to intersectionality of their various identities.

Tags: beauty, cissexism, cissexist, gender, non-binary, trans, transmisogyny

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